It's not unusual for musicians to die before their time, but Andy Palacio's death two weeks ago was unusual in that--in contrast, say, to the Hendrixes and Lennons of times gone by--he left no extensive back catalogue for his record company to repackage and reissue and no lengthy career to be earnestly reappraised. It was only as recent as last year that Palacio came to prominence after his "Watina" album won him widespread critical acclaim.
Interesting that one of the qualities Charlie Gillett, in the review on his own website, picks out is what he considers the "universal" appeal of the music. I would agree that it's accessible in the way that much world music is accessible: danceable, guitar-based and a reasonably easy listen for western ears. But I think that, rather than being "universal", this music belongs to a very particular time and place: it's a modern-day representation of the music of the threatened Caribbean culture of the Garifuna and as such has proved to be hugely important for the Garifuna community.
World music is often criticised for diluting local music so that it becomes more palatable (marketable) to western audiences but surely the fact that this music is "accessible" ("universal") can also be a virtue. Most obviously of course, the financial rewards of commercial success benefit the musicians themselves and are also usually channelled back to the home community.
Like the Buena Vista Social Club project, Palacio's Garifuna Collective mixes young and old musicians alike and so reinforces the continuity of local musical traditions across the generations. Throughout their history the Garifuna people struggled to retain their language, culture and identity and it's thanks to Andy Palacio that this identity is now being reinforced in modern times. Hopefully the Garifuna Collective can keep up the momentum even if, sadly, their leader is no longer able to show them the way.
- Andy Palacio's WOMEX Award acceptance speech
- "Watina": A Look Behind the Music of Andy Palacio (youtube)
- Andy Palacio Talks About Garifuna Culture (youtube)
- Peter Culshaw's obituary from the Observer Music Monthly blog
- Guardian obituary